|Independence Day (Five Star Collection)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 27 June 2000|
INDEPENDENCE DAY is all the fireworks of the 4th of July in one movie, as well as all of the patriotism, and all of the corn. Especially all of the corn. The movie, about the invasion of Earth by very well-armed aliens, borrows heavily from movies of the past, particularly WAR OF THE WORLDS and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, while adopting the disaster-movie format. And why not? Those too were huge, cornball epics, stuffed to the gills with special effects; there wasn't a deep thought in any of them, but audiences had a grand time with the best.
In true disaster-film format, director Roland Emmerich -- showing vast improvement over STARGATE -- and his co-writer Dean Devlin introduce the cast of characters before getting down to what the audience came to see: aliens blowing the hell out of Earth. First, the government, embodied mostly by President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), learns that an enormous spacecraft has stopped near Earth. And has sent out a "almost three dozen" smaller -- each a mere 15 miles across -- ships that descend toward Earth, eventually taking up positions above the world's major cities.
David (Jeff Goldblum), whose ex-wife Constance (Margaret Colin) is the President's press secretary, very improbably is the only person on Earth who figures out that the alien ships are engaged in some kind of countdown. He thinks it's a countdown to disaster, and convinces his cantankerous father Julius (Judd Hirsch) to drive him to Washington DC, since Constance won't talk to him on the phone.
Meanwhile, in California, Air Force Capt. Steven Hiller (Will Smith) bids a hasty farewell to his girlfriend Jasmine (Vivica Fox), and heads for his home field. Others involved include drunken crop duster Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), his son Miguel (James Duval), the President's wife Marilyn (Mary McDonnell), General Grey (Robert Loggia), Secretary of Defense Nimziki (James Rebhorn), Steve's pal and fellow pilot Jim (Harry Connick, Jr.), David's nervous boss Marty (Harvey Fierstein, not a guy you'd expect to see in an alien-invasion movie) and, eventually, scientist Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner).
These people confront the aliens, who spectacularly blow up New York city, Los Angeles and the White House. They presumably destroy many other cities as well, but the surprisingly limited budget didn't extent to blasting London, Moscow, Sydney, etc. Eventually, David is again the only person on Earth who figures out a way to stop the aliens.
INDEPENDENCE DAY is like a St. Bernard: huge, clumsy, inclined to drool, a little stupid, and lovable. I'm sure that Devlin and Emmerich are well aware of some of the stupidities -- the dust on the Moon in the opening shot clearly being swirled by air, sound in space, the compatibility of alien and Earthly computer systems. Others, I'm not so sure about, as when an Earth-made computer links smoothly with an alien computer system. Down here we can't even get PCs to talk to Macs.
The special effects, which are plentiful, were under the direction of Volher Engel, an old buddy of Emmerich's from their native Germany, and Douglas Smith, who's been doing this sort of thing on this side of the Atlantic ever since STAR WARS. They are the stars of one of the special edition's commentary tracks (both tracks were recorded for the special edition laserdisc), which is moderately interesting, but not engrossing. If you're not very curious about the special effects, you can skip it.
The production design chores were split between Oliver Scholl, yet another old buddy of Emmerich (and a former illustrator for science fiction magazines), and Patrick Tatopoulos. The second disc includes some production drawings from both of them. Tatopoulos is one of the most over-praised designers working today; his work is highly derivative and rarely based on any thing like scientific principles. He was responsible for the aliens, which are designed to be ugly and scary and creepy and icky and revolting and slimy and nasty, rather than logical. I mean, fellows, claws and tentacles and slime?
David Arnold's score is as big and boisterous -- and cornball -- as INDEPENDENCE DAY itself, but was I hearing a little of "Deutschland Uber Alles" when our heroes triumph? Harl Walter Lindenlaub, yet another German associate of Roland Emmerich, does a great job with the photography here; he's helped by much of the movie being shot on wide California plains, so he gets to frame a big, funny shot of the charge of the Winnebagos.
Emmerich and Devlin are not exactly masters of dialog. And they can't avoid that clunky, dopey scene where the quarreling hero and heroine reconcile while outside the room aliens are peeling our planet like an orange. Lines in INDEPENDENCE DAY are utilitarian, prosaic, unimaginative; when Pullman gives his big speech at the climax about the world facing its own independence day, there's hardly a quotable thought in it, much less a line.
INDEPENDENCE DAY keeps teetering on the edge of being silly, but never quite topples, because Emmerich and Devlin so clearly love what they're doing, and don't take it any more seriously than the movie really warrants. There was a great deal of backlash against the movie in the months after it erupted as the mammoth hit it was designed to be, but it's still the best thing Emmerich and Devlin have done.
There's not much point in relating the plot; you've probably already seen the movie. If you liked it, you'll want to get this special-edition DVD, featuring two discs both crammed with extra material. The first disc includes both the theatrical version of the movie, and a "special edition" that's nine minutes longer -- but without the narration track by Devlin and Emmerich, you probably wouldn't notice the additional scenes. Their chat is friendly enough, but very repititous, and they're inclined to drift into silence while watching their own movie. There's not nearly enough commentary about scene choices or other directorial decisions.
The second disc includes two standard promotional "documentaries," as well as an amusing collection of all the TV "news reports" glimpsed in the movie on the TV sets often seen in the background. There are production designs, stills, and many of the other standard extras. If you like the movie, this is the format in which to buy it.